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Conflict Tearing Social Fabric : A Call for Revenge Echoes Rising Filipino Violence

November 02, 1987|MARK FINEMAN | Times Staff Writer

DANAO, Philippines — The aging warlord shook with rage as he stared into the coffin containing the body of his godson.

Suddenly, the old man looked up, and his eyes moved quickly around the group of men in dark glasses who stood with him at the church's altar.

"You will not forgive this death," the godfather said, his voice just above a whisper. "Nor will you forget the cause."

Moments later at the cemetery, as the family of Leo Enriquez III prepared to place his coffin in the family crypt, Ramon Durano, godfather and warlord to tens of thousands on the island of Cebu, bent over and kissed the glass over the lifeless face. It was the kiss of revenge, he said later.

Then, from the tops of tombs throughout the cemetery, leaders of a right-wing vigilante network that Enriquez and the old warlord helped create let off a five-minute volley of gunfire, using shotguns, machine guns, rifles and pistols.

"What all this means," vigilante leader Jun Alcover said, "is that we will avenge the death of Leo Enriquez."

Even before the funeral was over, a right-wing assassination squad was organized in Enriquez's name.

The script could have been written in Chicago in the 1930s, but the Oct. 18 funeral for Leo Enriquez III, in this right-wing stronghold on Cebu, 560 miles south of Manila, was pure 1987 Philippines.

Lawlessness, murder and the guerrilla war have all intensified this year, further rending the country's social fabric. The life and death of Leo Enriquez mirrored the deterioration and rising violence of a country struggling to balance democracy against anarchy.

The story of Enriquez, who died Oct. 10 when a Communist death squad put a bullet through his head, is a sort of window on the human side of the struggle between the forces of the far left and right.

Enriquez, 38, was a reporter for a Cebu daily, the People's Journal, and his political commitment to the ultra-right anti-Communist movement colored his reporting. He spent most of his time with the armed forces. He wore military combat fatigues and carried a pistol.

But in addition to using his job as a tool of his ideology, Enriquez went a step further. Quietly, he helped organize--and served as the chief information officer for--a growing alliance of nationwide vigilante groups that are using the Communist guerrillas' own tactics in an effort to defeat them.

'Man of Principle'

"To me, Leo was really a man of principle, someone to be admired," said Felix Basadre Jr., the English-language editor of the People's Journal. He continued:

"In normal times, in normal places, objectivity is desirable, but these are not normal times. A lot of the journalists here stay in the middle not out of ethics but out of fear. If you're leaning to the left, the rightists will get you. If you lean to the right, the leftists will get you.

"Leo is one of the few who really committed himself. And he was killed for it."

Enriquez knew he was going to be killed. "It is only a question of where and when," he told The Times earlier this year. This was in April, in the course of one of the many trips Enriquez organized for foreign journalists covering the vigilante movement.

Noting that he spent 17 years as a member of legal Communist organizations before he "became disillusioned" and switched his allegiance to the political right, Enriquez said: "They cannot allow me to live. I know too much. I am their worst enemy."

Psychic's Prediction

Enriquez virtually predicted his death in an article that appeared in the People's Journal on the very day he was killed. Under the headline "Media Man to Die," Enriquez quoted Jojo Acuin, a psychic, as predicting that "a media man in Cebu will figure in a very tragic accident or will die before the end of 1987."

Enriquez wrote that the psychic would not identify the reporter, but added that he and two other reporters had received death threats from the Communist New People's Army and were the most likely targets for assassination.

"Two weeks ago," Enriquez noted in the article, "sons of this reporter, ages 7 and 3, foiled an attempt by NPA suspects to burn down their home."

Cerge Remonde, a radio reporter who is one of the two others reportedly targeted for death, said in an interview that the psychic had confided in him that it was Enriquez who would be killed.

"Leo also knew inside that it would be he," Remonde said. "But his commitment to the cause was more important than his life. He just wouldn't take precautions."

At 8:45 a.m. on Oct. 10, just as the newspaper containing Enriquez's article was hitting the streets, the reporter left his home for the office. Enriquez, who did not own a car, was on foot.

As he approached his bus stop, three young men who according to witnesses had been "hanging around" since 7 a.m., approached Enriquez from behind. One produced a .45-caliber pistol, jammed it against the nape of Enriquez's neck and fired.

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